CURMUDGUCATION blog… Pennsylvania State Rep Compares School Boards to Hitler

Sunday, October 30, 2016

CURMUDGUCATIONPA: State Rep Compares School Boards to Hitler

Brad Roae is running for re-election for the PA House of Representatives for District 6. First elected in 2006, Roae has had some interesting things to say about education in Pennsylvania.

Hitler blamed the Jews for everything that was wrong with the world and school boards blame charter schools.

This was on Facebook, in response to a question about the currently-off-the-table HB 530, a bill that was supposed to provide big fat early Christmas presents to the charter school industry in PA.

Roae’s district is just up the road from me and just down the road from Erie, where the schools have made some headlines with their economic issues, to the point that their board was seriously considering closing all of its high schools. Erie is one of several school districts that highlight the economic troubles of school districts in Pennsylvania. It’s a complex mess, but the basic problems boil down to this.

First, Pennsylvania ranks 45th in the country for level of state support for local districts. That means the bulk of school district funding comes from local taxpayers, and that means that as cities like Erie with a previously-industrial tax base have lost those big employers, local revenue has gone into freefall, opening up some of the largest gaps between rich and poor districts in the country.

Second, Pennsylvania’s legislature (the largest full-time legislature in the country, one of the most highly paid, and one of the most impressively gerrymandered) decided in the early 2000s that they would let local districts skimp on payments to the pension fund because, hey, those investments will grow the fund like wildfire anyway. Then Wall Street tanked the economy, and now local districts are looking at spectacularly ballooning pension payments on the order of payments equal to as much as one third of their total budget.

Oh, and a side note– the legislature also periodically goes into spectacular failure mode about the budget. Back in 2015 districts across the state had to borrow huge chunks of money just to function, because Harrisburg couldn’t get their job done.

Third, Pennsylvania is home to what our own Auditor General calls the worst charter laws in the country. There are many reasons for that judgment, but for local districts the most difficult part is that charter school students take 100% of their per-capita cost with them.

So Erie City Schools, despite some emergency funding from the state, will run up as much as a $10 million deficit this year, with a full quarter of their spending going to charter and pension costs. Meanwhile, the legislature is trying to phase in a new funding formula (or, one might say, its first actual funding formula). This is going to be a painful process because, to even things out, it will have to involve giving some cities a far bigger injection of state tax dollars than richer communities will get. Politicians face the choice of either explaining this process and making a case for fairness and justice, or they can just play to the crowd and decry Harrisburg “stealing our tax dollars to send to Those People.” Place your bets now on which way that wind will blow.

Oh, and that formula is supposed to get straightened out over the next twenty years!!

Meanwhile, guys like Roae want to blame teachers and school districts. You can’t give teachers raises and benefits. If Erie (and school districts like it) want state aid, then they should cut costs and stop blaming charter schools. Meanwhile, Roae has been lauded by the PA cyber industry as a “champion of school choice.”

Roae, who graduated from Gannon in 1990 with a business degree and worked in the insurance biz until starting his legislative career, ought to know better.

When hospitals throughout Northwest PA wanted to cut costs, they didn’t open more hospitals. If you are having trouble meeting your household budget, you do not open a second home and move part of your family into it.

Education seems to be the only field in which people suggest that when you don’t have enough money to fund one facility, you should open more facilities. Charters are in fact a huge drain on public schools in the state. If my district serves 1,000 students and 100 leave for a charter school, my operating costs do not decrease by 10% even if my student population does. In fact, depending on which 100 students leave, my costs may not decrease at all. On top of that, I have to maintain capacity to handle those students because if some or all come back (and many of them do) I have to be able to accommodate them.

And while you can argue that losing students to charters may allow me to reduce the number of teachers in my school, in effect “moving” those jobs to the charter, the charter will still have to duplicate administrative costs.

Roae need only look at the schools all around his district to see schools that are cutting programs, closing buildings, jamming more students into classrooms, and offering the taxpayers of the district less in their public school system. Charter school costs aren’t responsible for all of that, but they are certainly responsible for a lot of it, and that is doubly frustrating for school boards who, unlike Hitler, feel some responsibility for watching over the tax dollars that they were elected to spend wisely. And yet, unlike Hitler, they have no say at all over how those dollars are spent by the charters and, under Pennsylvania’s lousy charter laws, nobody really has oversight once those public tax dollars go into private charter operator hands.

It’s like board members get ten dollars from a taxpayer for lunch

Taxpayer: Couldn’t you get us a better lunch with the money we gave you?
Board member: Well, the state said I had to give three dollars to that guy.
Taxpayer: Well, did he at least buy lunch with it.
Board member: I have no idea.

We could discuss the widespread fraud and scandal of Pennsylvania charter schools (if you hate the idea of your NWPA tax dollars going to Philly, you’ll really hate what happens when they go to Philly charters), but that’s really beside the point. If PA legislators think charters are such a good idea, they could come up with a funding system that didn’t bleed the public system dry in order to get charters running.

Meanwhile, voters in District 6 might try voting against someone who thinks that after you rob Peter to pay Paul, you yell at Peter for not being thrifty enough to withstand the theft, and then compare him to Hitler.

Source: CURMUDGUCATION: PA: State Rep Compares School Boards to Hitler

Voter fraud, perceptions and political spin: Research roundup – from Journalist’s Resource blog

Claims of election fraud have become a prominent feature in the campaign of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. He has repeatedly warned that the election will be “stolen” from him — especially in black, urban neighborhoods where he has less support. “Of course there is large scale voter fraud happening on and before election day,” he tweeted on October 17.

The assertions could undermine the legitimacy of the election result and of the eventual winner.

Fears about electoral fraud resonate broadly. A September 2016 Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 46 percent of registered voters believe it happens “often.” These voters are often divided along party lines. Among Trump supporters, that number rises to 69 percent; it is 28 percent among supporters of the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton. An August 2016 Gallup poll found a similar split. Overall, faith in fair elections appears to be slipping: Since 2004, expectations that presidential elections will be tallied accurately have dropped from about 70 percent to 63 percent, according to the Washington Post-ABC News poll.

But how common is electoral fraud in the United States? And could misconduct at the polls swing a result?

Data on the rare cases of fraud

Multiple studies using different methodologies have found voter fraud occurs so rarely that it could not have an impact on results. In 2016, Loyola Law School Professor Justin Levitt wrote in the Washington Post that he had found 31 credible allegations of fraud among some 1 billion ballots cast between 2000 and 2014 (and he expected some of those 31 to be debunked).

The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office, in a September 2014 report to Congress, noted that without a central data source for fraud reporting, it cannot make valid conclusions about the frequency of fraud. It did add, though, that the Department of Justice had noted “no apparent cases of in-person voter impersonation […] anywhere in the United States, from 2004 through July 3, 2014.”

Looking at returns from the 2012 general election, John Ahlquist and colleagues, writing in the Election Law Journal, found no evidence of fraudulent vote casting or vote buying.

Voter ID Laws

Those who fear fraud often propose voter-identification requirements as a solution. Over 30 states have some sort of voter-identification law, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures. These laws require registered voters to provide identification (or in some cases merely allow the poll worker to ask for ID, even if it is not required) in order to receive a ballot on Election Day. The 2016 Gallup poll mentioned above found that 95 percent of Republicans and 63 percent of Democrats favor voter-ID requirements. A 2012 Pew poll found similar results.

But scholars say such laws target minorities (who often vote Democrat) because “minorities are less likely than whites to have acceptable identification,” according to a 2015 review in the Michigan Journal of Race and Law.

Researchers at the University of California San Diego have found that voter ID laws have a negative impact on the turnout of Hispanics, African Americans and mixed-race Americans in primaries and general elections, skewing elections toward whites and Republicans.

Indeed, in July 2016 a federal judge squashed a North Carolina voter-ID law introduced by the state’s Republican-controlled legislature. The judge said the law targeted black voters “with almost surgical precision” in an effort to discourage their turnout at the polls. The law was written in 2013 after the Supreme Court threw out a provision in the 1965 Voting Rights Act that had given federal authorities the right to oversee changes in election protocol in counties with a history of racial discrimination.

Fraud as partisan spin

Belief in electoral fraud is strongly associated with membership in the Republican Party.

Margaret Groarke of Manhattan College argues in Political Science Quarterly that concerns about voter fraud are “a partisan strategy to constrict the electorate,” specifically to stop minorities from voting. She chronicles how fear of fraud has derailed legislative efforts across decades to make registration easier for eligible Americans, with Republican lawmakers largely against and Democrats largely for.

Brian Fogarty of the University of Glasgow and colleagues argue that calls for voter-ID laws — generally from Republican voters and legislators — are part of a push by conservative party operatives to stoke perceptions of fraud, placing fraud on the political agenda to “motivate their voting base ahead of the election.”

Evidence is available to support that claim. “Behind closed doors, some Republicans freely admit that stoking false fears of electoral fraud is part of their political strategy,” The New York Times reported in September 2016. “In a recently disclosedemail from 2011, a Republican lobbyist in Wisconsin wrote to colleagues about a very close election for a seat on the State Supreme Court. ‘Do we need to start messaging “widespread reports of election fraud” so we are positively set up for the recount regardless of the final number?’ he wrote. ‘I obviously think we should.’”

Other resources

Journalist’s Resource has profiled a number of relevant studies, including work on the factors impacting minority voter turnout, voter-ID laws, the rights of voters and on electoral integrity around the world.

At New York University, the Brennan Center for Justice has a list of recent scholarship on voter ID laws as well as other resources helpful for journalists writing about voting rights or the risk of fraud.

The News 21 program at Arizona State University keeps a database of alleged instances of voter fraud. It tallied 2,068 cases of alleged election fraud between 2000 and 2012. Of those, only 10 could have been prevented with voter-ID legislation.

For a more global perspective, there is The Electoral Integrity Project, run out of the University of Sydney and Harvard.

More research and sources: Voter fraud, perceptions and political spin: Research roundup – Journalist’s Resource Journalist’s Resource

CURMUDGUCATION: Reflect now. Now!! NOW!!!

The slightly-cranky voice navigating the world of educational “reform” while trying to still pursue the mission of providing quality education.

Source: CURMUDGUCATION: Reflect now. Now!! NOW!!!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Reflect now. Now!! NOW!!!

One of the fully screwed-up features of modern standardized assessments is the time frame.

A standardized test is the only place where students are told, “Starting from scratch, read this, reflect on it, answer questions about it, and do it all in the next fifteen minutes.” We accept the accelerated time line as a normal feature of assessment, but why?

Never ever in a college course was a student handed a book for the first time and told, “Read this book and write an intelligent, thoughtful paper about the text. Hand it in sixty minutes from now.”

Reflective, thoughtful, deep, even close reading, the kind of reading that reformsters insist they want, takes time. The text has to be read and considered carefully. Theories about the ideas, the themes, the characters, the author’s use of language, the thoughtful consideration of the various elements of the writing– those all need time to percolate, to simmer, to be mulled by the reader. Those of us who teach literature and reading in high school never have to tell our students, “Hurry up and zip through that faster.” Most commonly we have to find ways to encourage our students to slow down, pay attention, really think about what they’re reading instead of trying to race to the end.

A reader’s relationship with a text, like any good relationship, takes time. It may start with a certain slow grudging acquaintance or necessity, or it may start with an instant spark of attraction, but either way, if the relationship is going to have any depth or quality, time and care will have to be invested. Standardized tests are the “hit it and quit it” of the reading world.

The reasons that we test this way are obvious. Test manufacturers want a short, closed test period so that no test items can “leak,” though, of course, some of the best reflection on reading comes through discussion and sharing. English teachers have adopted reading circles for a reason. Test manufacturers also want to keep the testing experience uniform, which means a relatively short, set time (the longer the test lasts, the more variables creep in). But it’s important to note that none of the reasons that we test this way have anything to do with more effectively testing the skills we say we want to test.

There’s a whole other discussion to be had about trying to treat reading skills as discrete abilities that exist and can be measured in a vacuum without any concern about the content being read. They can’t, but even if they could, none of the skills we say we want in readers are tested by the instant quicky test method. We say we want critical thinking, deep reading, and reflection beyond simple recall and fact-spitting, but none of that fits with the cold-reading and instant analysis method used in tests. We test as if we want to train students to cold read and draw conclusions quickly, in an isolated brief period.

This is nuts. It is a skill set that pretty much nobody is looking for, an ability favored by no-one, and yet, it is a fundamental part of the Big Standardized Test. No– I take that back. This is a set of skills that is useful if you want to train a bunch of people to read and follow directions quickly and compliantly. That’s about it.

Real reading takes time. Real reflection takes time. Both are best served by a rich environment that includes other thoughtful readers and resources to enrich the experience. To write any sort of thoughtful, deep, or thorough reflection on that reading also takes time.

If policymakers were serious about building critical thinking, deep reading skills, and thoughtful responses to the text, they would not consider BS Tests like the PARCC for even five minutes. It is one more area where stated intent and actual actions are completely out of alignment.

CURMUDGUCATION: John King’s Civics Lesson


The slightly-cranky voice navigating the world of educational “reform” while trying to still pursue the mission of providing quality education.

Source: CURMUDGUCATION: John King’s Civics Lesson

Posted by Peter Greeene: 20 Oct 2016

The e-mail from the charter-shilling group Center for Education Reformannounced breathlessly that John King “joined the chorus of education leaders, elected officials and respected members of the African-American community in criticizing by the NAACP‘s decision to demand moratoriums on charter schools.”

He didn’t. He spoke in front of the National Press Club at a luncheon this week, said many things about civic education, and answered some questions, one of which may be my absolute favorite question asked of a federal official ever– but we’ll get to that along with some other things he did. But King did not go after the NAACP.

The full text is twenty pages long, and I’ve read it, but nobody really needs to. But I am going to compress severely.

Jeff Ballou gives King an introduction that mentions his ” emphasis on making sure all students are receiving the same level of education, regardless of race or zip code,” and notes that he is today returning to “his roots as a social studies teacher” and I am reminded that as abused as the mantle of “Teacher” has become, lots of people sure do want to claim it based on the thinnest of experience (like say, teaching for just a year or two in a selective private charter school.

As always, King opens by invoking tales of Mr. Osterweiler, the gifted teacher who changed King’s life and who would never be allowed to do half of what King credits him with doing in  today’s climate. It remains the central irony of King’s career that it rests on such a powerful story of powerful teaching, and yet King cannot or will not see how the policies he pursues guarantee that the Osterweilers of the world will be stifled, straightjacketed, and pushed out of teaching.

But on to his point.

Civic education is a big deal. King leads with some history of civic issues like voting and an appeal to the importance of knowing that history, but says there are more important things like “being willing to think beyond our own needs and wants and to embrace our obligations to the greater good.” Yeah, don’t wait for me to say something snarky about that, because he’s correct.

Next some scare stats about Kids These Days and how they don’t know their Constitution or Joe Biden and Schoolhouse Rock explanations of how a bill becomes a law (and that’s before we even get to stuff like “How a federal agency uses its enforcement powers to rewrite or circumvent laws it disagrees with.”

So King wants teachers to cover civic duty– and he wants teachers to do it in a non-partisan manner. And it tells us something about King that he says the civic engagement is not a GOP or Democratic Party issue, as if the two parties do not cover (and also fail to cover) a wide range of philosophies and ideologies that create a fairly wide and complex tapestry on which American citizenship plays out. It’s the view of someone who is looking at the political gamesmanship of DC and not the actual ideas and understanding that drives the worldviews behind policy positions.

But Kin knows these conversations could be “uncomfortable,” so he calls for “support and training” for teachers because heaven forbid we teachers try to talk about Hard Things.

Then we’re on to specific examples, including some student service groups and the James Madison Memorial Fellowship Foundation, because there’s nothing political about that. And he talks about the new Museum of African American History and Culture. And he works his way around to an absolutely strong and even moving argument in favor of civic knowledge and civic skill, that wraps up here:

Outpolled, outraised and outspent: Clinton leads Trump in September and overall, but numbers not as high as Obama’s | OpenSecrets Blog


Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on Thursday night, flanked by Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Trump’s wife Melania. Clinton has vastly outraised Trump, but President Obama posted much bigger numbers in both of his elections. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

September’s fundraising and spending by Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump outpaced the numbers the candidates posted in any month so far. No surprise there.

But the candidates’ activity was still pretty punk compared to the previous two presidential races.

Clinton compounded her well-documented fundraising dominance as the race turned down the home stretch.
read more

Source: Outpolled, outraised and outspent: Clinton leads Trump in September and overall, but numbers not as high as Obama’s | OpenSecrets Blog

Lobbyists, campaign cash help drug industry stymie bid to restrain Medicare prescription costs | OpenSecrets Blog

When the Republican-controlled Congress approved a landmark program in 2003 to help seniors buy prescription drugs, it slapped on an unusual restriction: The federal government was barred from negotiating cheaper prices for those medicines.

Instead, the job of holding down costs was outsourced to the insurance companies delivering the subsidized new coverage, known as Medicare Part D … read more…

Source: Lobbyists, campaign cash help drug industry stymie bid to restrain Medicare prescription costs | OpenSecrets Blog

‘Dinner with Donald’ super PAC raises $1 million, 1 percent goes to backing Trump | OpenSecrets Blog

Remember American Horizons PAC? The committee advertised a ‘Dinner with Donald‘ in July, prompting Trump’s lawyers to send a cease-and-desist letter about the fundraiser, accusing the committee of defrauding its donors.

A harsh reprimand from the group’s preferred candidate wasn’t enough to shut the shop down, however. (Though it did put the kibosh on the dinner fundraiser.) In fact, it has raised more money than ever … read more.

Source: ‘Dinner with Donald’ super PAC raises $1 million, 1 percent goes to backing Trump | OpenSecrets Blog

Video: Police Viciously Attacked Peaceful Protesters at the Dakota Access Pipeline

Peaceful marchers protesting the Dakota Access pipeline were viciously attacked by police.

Source: Video: Police Viciously Attacked Peaceful Protesters at the Dakota Access Pipeline

The conflict over the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota continues to unfold as Native American activists from across the country protest the destruction of sites sacred to the Lakota nation. On October 22, hundreds of peaceful marchers were attacked by police. Before she was arrested, Jihan Hafiz captured the scene on video, in footage that carries unsettling echoes of 19th-century massacres as unarmed protesters run for the hills.

Read and watch more here:


Visualizing the U.S.-Mexico Border

What would it mean to try to see the entire southwest border at once?

Source: Visualizing the U.S.-Mexico Border

What does the U.S.-Mexico border really look like? Josh Begley, resident data artist for The Intercept, wasn’t sure, so he downloaded satellite photos from Google Maps for the entire international boundary. Using the resulting 200,000 images, he created a six-minute film that traces the border from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico, covering 1,954 miles. The southwest border is one of the most politicized spaces in the United States, a terrain that has been reduced to an ugly political metaphor. Begley’s film reminds us that the geography of the borderlands is both vast and beautiful.

In partnership with

WHAT DOES THE southern border of the United States look like?

For all the talk of “securing the border” and “building a wall,” there is surprisingly little visual material that conveys just how vast this stretch of space is.

In total, the U.S.-Mexico border spans 1,954 miles. According to Google Maps, it would take 34 hours to drive its entire length. In places, there already is a border fence — more than 650 miles of it. Pushed and pulled by various forces, some 1 million people are estimated to pass through the official ports of entry every day.

But what does the geography of this landscape look like? Is it industrial? Desolate? Populated? All of the above?

Using the geographic coordinates of the international boundary line, in addition to location data for the existing border fence (which has been mapped by journalists at NPR and the Center for Investigative Reporting), I wrote a small computer script to download satellite imagery for the entire border.

I ended up with about 200,000 images.

Using a command-line tool called ffmpeg, I programmatically stitched the images together, and then worked with Laura Poitras and her team at Field of Vision to edit them into a short film. Jace Clayton, the artist and author known as DJ /rupture, developed an original score for the piece.

Read the full post and see the video here:


Fundraising histories and lots of experience in speculative Clinton Cabinet | OpenSecrets Blog

Washington thrives on speculation and now, after months of guessing at things like primary contenders and vice presidential picks, it’s time to draft potential cabinets. With no shortage of well-educated guesses on who might lead the various executive departments, certain names crop up more often than others, often officials and bureaucrats with substantial political and policy experience. … read more: Fundraising histories and lots of experience in speculative Clinton Cabinet | OpenSecrets Blog

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